AMELIA, VA (WWBT) - Imagine this -- 35 feet underground, wedged in a well just a few feet across, surrounded by darkness, and not sure anyone will find you alive.
That was the reality for an Amelia man who took a unique approach to signal for help. After being rescued by a fireman, the victim is in the hospital but it's one birthday present Brian Burdge will never forget.
Amelia first responders are being praised for helping save the man's life. Everyday they respond to emergencies but this one was different and one firefighter didn't waste any time when he arrived on scene.
Karina Burdge is glad that man acted so quickly. Otherwise, things may not have turned out so well for her husband.
"The first thing on my mind is 'how do I look at my daughter and tell her? How do I tell her that he could've died down there'?" she said.
It's difficult for her to recall that scary moment. She was with her mother in law at the time.
"That anyone found him is a miracle," said Mary Burdge.
It all happened when firemen responded to smoke coming from an abandoned church on Jetersville Road. While searching the area, something caught one fireman's eye.
"I come around this side and just happened to look at the well and it was smoke coming from it," said David Weyant.
Firefighters say Brian Burdge had set his own jacket on fire -- hoping to get attention.
"I just hollered out 'fire department. Is anyone down there' and I got a faint cry for help," Weyant added.
So he lowered himself almost three stories inside the dark well using a rope and harness to pull Brian to safety. Bruised and suffering from smoke inhalation, he was airlifted to the hospital.
"His airways had some burns in them and he had smoke inhalation. He was intubated and put into a medically induced coma," Mary Burdge said.
His family is just relieved he made it out alive.
"I want to tell them thank you because it took a lot of effort to get him out and if they didn't my daughter may not have her father," Karina Burdge said.
But the fireman who jumped into the well doesn't want the credit.
"A few of the guys said that night that I was a hero and my way of seeing it is I was just the guy they sent down the well," Weyant said.
Instead, he thanks his team of volunteers.
"Without them my mission would not be successful," he said.
There are still some unanswered questions - how did he get inside the well? Was anyone with him at the time? These are questions his family and even investigators are still trying to get to the bottom of.
Burdge's family says his condition continues to improve at the hospital. Investigators are working to determine how the church fire started and if it's at all connected to Burdge ending up inside the well.